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RABBI ASHER BRANDER Terumah
2 Adar 5772 

By: Rabbi Asher Brander, rabbi@kehilla.org

 

TEACHINGS: IN DEPTH REFLECTIONS ON THE PARSHA - BY RABBI ASHER BRANDERIf you are interested in purchasing Teachings:  In Depth Reflections on the Parsha Email rabbibrander@linkla.org 

 

The Stuff of Spirit   

 

For the first time, (but not the last), Jews are asked to donate.

 

Three donations startup the  Mishkan. An appeal for raw materials, a second call for the silver (for) sockets, and a third to begin the communal sacrifice fund[1]. Our Parsha commences with a somewhat unique type of donation. While the latter two were mandatory egalitarian donations (1/2 shekel) the first call was for nidvas leiv, donations of the heart. While the latter two required coins, the former requested variant materials and lots of them - herein, the list:

 

This is the offering that you shall take from them: gold, silver and copper.-blue [wool], dark red [wool], crimson [wool], fine linen, and goats [hair]. Red[-dyed] ram's skins, tachash skins, and acacia wood. Oil for the lamp. Spices for anointing-oil, and for the incense of aromatic spices. Shoham  stones, and filling stones for setting [into] the ephod and breastplate.

 

In God's house, everything - from the raw materials to the furniture (its placement and measurements), carries inherent and symbolic significance[2]. Let us ask a simple question: How  many materials did the Mishkan need and of what significance is that number?

 

Since the Torah presents the list, it shouldn't be that hard to answer, and yet consider the following two midrashic sources:

1.       Shir Hashirim Rabah,[ 4:25]:

She [the Community of Israel] presented to Him [God] thirteen things, and He presented to her thirteen. [3]....

            2.   Zohar, 2:135

Gold symbolizes New Year's Day, the day of "gold", because it is a day of judgement,. .. Silver symbolizes the Day of Atonement, ..... "Scarlet" ..  the fifteenth day of Ab, .. So far six symbolic elements have been enumerated; the rest symbolize .. The other nine, corresponding to nine days of Repentance, ..

 

These midrashim teach us that numbers matter - but at the same time can not agree what is that number. We shall return to this point shortly. 

 

Rashi, [ala Shir Hashirim Rabah] states: "All thirteen items mentioned here were required either for the construction of the Mishkan or for the priestly vestments, if you examine them carefully[4]."

 

Rabbeinu Bechayei's amazing "15" tour, however  takes its cue from the Zohar. For him, the number is deeply significant in that incorporates (among other items):  

a.   name of God (Kah, yud hey) needed to create this and the next world [cf. Menachos 29b]

b.       the number of words + vowels in the 1st and primary Creation verse of the Torah

c.       number of praises in Yishtabach before we arrive at His great name

d.       number of stairs that separate the outer courtyard from the inner courtyard

e.       the number of Dovid's Shir Hamaalot psalms

f.        the number of words in the birchat kohanim

g.       the number of praises that follows the Shema

 

Fifteen then, is the number for an intense spirituality of connection - a bridge between lower and higher kedusha.

 

So who's right? Rashi or Rabbeinu Bechayei. Neisi sefer v'nechzi. Let us simply count! Are there 13 materials or 15?

 

A simple analysis would seem to bear out Rabbeinu Bechayei: Gold, silver, and copper = (3). Blue wool, dark red wool, crimson wool,  linen, and goats [hair] = (5). Red-dyed ram's skins, tachash skins, and acacia wood = (3). Oil for the lamp, spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet-smelling incense = (2). Shoham and setting-stones = (2).

 

And for Rashi's thirteen? Solutions abound:

a.      Chizkuni - The stones were not counted as they came from the princes and not the people

b.      Moshav Zekeinim - Oil and spices are considered one  and the stones are considered one  [same genre]

c.      Shach, Bartenura - the oil and spices don't count as they were not used for the mishkan nor for the kohanim's clothes [5]

 

A fourth answer, from [the classic Rashi supercommentary], Mizrachi, resonates. Centuries later, Rav Schwab goes with the same notion - but spices it with a tantalizing closer: That which separates Rashi from Rabbeinu Bechayei is whether to count the dyed sheep wools as one or three? For Rashi wool is wool and to Rabbeinu Bechaye a different color constitutes a  new item. It would now appear that Rashi's approach is the more logical one - for why should the wool's color of wool define it distinctly?   

 

Herein Rav Schwab's closing teaser:

 

For  in the world of kedusha, it is form, not material/content that is primary.

 

Consider that the mishkan is full of form over material [precise dimensions, exacting curvatures - think menorah, mishkan covers, flowers, buttons, keruvim etc.] If form matters, then blue red and purple wool are three different items[6].  

 

The mind objects: Why would the spiritual world elevate external form over inner content?

 

Perhaps this is the notion: In the epic struggle between holy and profane classically depicted as the battle between  body and soul, it is ultimately form that defines victory.

 

On a material level, umotar haadam min habeheima ayin,  that which distinguishes man from animal is biologically insignificant - nor does the tzaddik (pious) have a distinct physique from that of the rasha (wicked). I find it almost unfathomable to consider that the heilige Chofetz Chaim and l'havdil the unspeakably wicked Hitler shared the same century, continent, and a 99% genetic similarity. Righteousness per se,  is not the domain of a particular  genetic predisposition.

 

Ergo, the man/animal and man/man distinction lies not in the basic stuff; it is the form that we give to our content that ultimately defines sanctity. To paraphrase Ramban[7], it is not the leiv tov - but the ma'aseh tov. It is not the cardiac Jew, the passionate Jew at heart, that carries the day, for without form,  solid material can twist and turn in all the wrong directions. Deed (= spiritual form) not creed (spiritual content) defines successful spirituality.  

 

For those who seek to find Hashem in the world, these are uplifting words. Consider that the everyday Jew wakes up and thanks Hashem for the return of his soul - but then he gets very simple: he makes a bracha on his clothing, on getting up, on standing up  and even on his shoes and a belt (life without one is quite annoying).  We may wonder  why the dramatic shift from soul to simple body?  

 

Rav Schwab's key notion reminds us that in that content[neshama] - form[body] duality lies the stuff of practical spirituality and the ability to effect the world.  

 

May Hashem give us the strength and wisdom to access our deep spiritual gifts in a wat that transforms our world within and the world without. 

   

Good Shabbos ,Asher Brander             

[1] Cf. Rashi , 25:2, Tikchu and Rashi , 30:15. The first is mentioned here, the 2nd is referenced in Shemos 38:26, the third in Bamidbar, 1:1

[2]Consider the following sampling of symbolisms for the Mishkan itself,  all well documented in the sources:A. Mishkan as the house in the marriage between Hashem and Klal Yisrael. B. Mishkan as the nexus between this world and the next C. Mishkan as a continuation of the Sinai experience [portable Matan torah] D. Mishkan as a kapparah for the Golden Calf sin E.. Mishkan as a the human body

[3] and brass; and blue, and purple, and scarlet, ..   (Ex. XXV, 3-7)

[4] Rashi, 25:2 , tikchu. Cf. Rashi, Yechezkel, 16:13 who alludes to the midrash shir hashirim

[5] this point is the clear implicit p'shat of the the midrash Shir HasHirim Rabah which omits the oil and spices

[6]Rav Schwab notes a few further oddities. In listing the materials, the Torah uses the ancillary name for linen (sheish - not pishtan); curiously it omits the word wool in describing the goats's hair as izim. Rav Schwab's notion of form over content illuminates as sheish, as opposed to pishtan,  implies spun linen  while the izim accentuates the requirement  manner  that the goats hair need be spun while still attached to the goat's head.  In a later piece, he notes that the Torah seems to mingle purpose and content, i.e., the Torah does not merely list oil, rather it is oil for lighting, nor is it simply spices - but  it is besamim l'shemen hamishcha etc. R. Schwab's approach will work to address this issue as well.

[7] Bereishis, 22:1


 
   
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